From Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu) and Obinna Odogwu (Awka)
Traditional rulers in the South East are facing consistent severe attacks by criminals parading as “unknown gunmen,” thereby increasing the spate of insecurity in the region. The big unanswered question remains: Why making these harmless rulers and leaderships of town unions prime targets?
Arguably, Imo State has recorded the highest number of brutal attacks on traditional rulers by the gunmen. Many of them have become sacrificial lambs for the atonement of the sins committed by politicians.
No fewer than eight monarchs were killed while a few others were abducted and later released. Two traditional rulers who attended a meeting at Njaba Council Area headquarters were shot and killed by gunmen. Two of their colleagues were a bit lucky though they sustained serious injuries.
Also, the traditional ruler of Umuezie, Nguru in Aboh Mbaise Local Government, Eze Charles Iroegbu, who owns All States Mass Transit, was abducted on June 6, 2021, while returning from a traditional marriage at Mbano with some members of his cabinet. Iroegbu spent four nights in the den of his abductors before he was released after payment of alleged heavy ransom.
After a brief decrease, the tempo upped again November/December 2021 as the gunmen became fiercer in their operations. They did not spare the blind octogenarian father of former Imo deputy governor, Eze Henry Madumere, traditional ruler of Achi Mbieri in Mbaitolu LG.
He was abducted on November 19, 2021, on his way to a burial ceremony. He was lucky to have come out unhurt after five days of captivity.
Another traditional ruler, Eze Damian Nwigwe of Mbutu in Aboh Mbaise, was also abducted on December 9, 2021, but was later released. Unfortunately, his counterpart, Eze Edwin Azike, also abducted the same day was killed. His body was dumped at the market square.
Eze Acho Ndukwe of Amagu, Ihube Kingdom in Okigwe council area was abducted on December12, 2021. His palace set ablaze by the gunmen. The owner of Genesis Hotels, Okigwe, became the luckiest of his colleagues. He was rescued by a team of security agents. Eze Paul Ogbu, kidnapped same day with Eze Ndukwe was not lucky. He was killed by his abductors.
Daily Sun could not unravel at press time, why traditional rulers became cheap targets for gunmen. Some respondents from their respective domains suspected political undertone and that many of the victims were wealthy, hence money making avenues for the criminals.
A source from alleged that the opposition was using devious act to create tension: “I believe they have turned away from the security agents. They shifted to traditional rulers. Unlike politicians who have security operatives attached to them, the monarchs don’t have. They’ve become soft targets.”
There was a twist to the incident in Abia State. Eze Ekeh Ogori was the traditional ruler of Achara Ihechiowa, Arochukwu Local Government, until January 2020. He was reported to have fallen out of favour with some elite groups in the community. This allegedly led to his dethronement.
It never ended there. Exactly one year after he was removed, a new king, Ogba Thomas Itam, was selected. His enthronement was fixed for January 2, 2021.
However, on the day of the installation, Ogba slumped and died in his room. The following day, the deposed king, Ogori and five of his close confidants were accused of being responsible for the death of his would-be successor. They were alleged tried and subsequently publicly set ablaze in the evening of the same day.
In 2009, the palace of the traditional ruler of Umuogo in Ukwa East Local Government was razed and his whereabouts yet unknown till date. Reports had it that in the night preceding the day his palace was razed, security operatives had an encounter with some oil thieves within of the community.
This led to the death of some of the operatives. In a seeming reprisal, a team of security operatives was said to have invaded the community.
Sometimes ago, a gory incident happened at Abala, Obingwa Local Government. The traditional ruler, Eze Wilson Nna and his wife, Ugoeze, were brutally murdered in the palace by criminal elements. They felt he was obstructing their escapades. They later set their bodies ablaze inside the palace.
Only recently, one person was confirmed dead when gunmen attacked the convoy of traditional ruler from Isikwuato, Eze Okey Udeh.
The monarch and four others were said to be traveling along the Abia State University (ABSU)-Uturu Road. There were other unreported cases of Abia traditional rulers being attacked even by their own subjects.
The situation in Enugu State has been mostly attributed to disputes within their communities, although the recent abduction of Igwe Don Nwochi of Ozalla was yet to be situated. He was abducted in his hotel at the Four Corners, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, on December 24, 2021. His whereabouts still unknown.
Another killing was that of the traditional ruler of Oruku in Nkanu East Local Government, Igwe Emmanuel Mba. He was reportedly holding a community meeting on December 26, 2020, when policemen allegedly from Abuja stormed the venue and shot him.
The traditional ruler’s murder, in which some members of the community were fingered, expectedly sparked off a chain of crisis leading to the burning of over 77 houses and the only market in the community. It also led to the killing of vice chairman, Oruku Town Union, Chief Samuel Ani, two months after.
There was also the killing of Igwe Stephen Nwatu, traditional ruler of Ogbozinne autonomous community in Akpugo, Nkanu West Local Government on June 11, 2018.
In Anambra State, police told Daily Sun that Igwe Chike Nnaji, traditional ruler of Ogwu-Aniocha in Ogbaru LG, who was abducted was yet to regain his freedom. Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Toochukwu Ikenga, said:
“The Anambra State Police Command wishes to declare below persons wanted in the on going investigation into the alleged murder of Chief Ajieh Anthony Nwanasor, Ikenna Ugochukwu and abduction of the traditional Igwe Chike Nnaji (Ezechukwukwadolu III) of Ogwu-Aniocha community Ogbaru LGA.
“The Commissioner of Police, Echeng Echeng, assured Anambra residents and indeed the people of Ogwu-Aniocha that the command shall leave no stone unturned in the on going investigations.”
He later told Daily Sun: “The traditional ruler has not been found. And none of the 21 persons declared wanted by the police command has been arrested. We are still appealing to the citizens to help us with useful information to help us get them arrested.”
Prior to this period, gunmen on Friday, September 10, 2021, allegedly killed the former traditional ruler of Aguleri, Alex Edozieuno and his driver, Chukwuemeka. They were allegedly ambushed and killed at Otuocha in Anambra East Local Government in the early hours of that day.
He was deposed in 2020. This was after he joined 11 other traditional rulers to travel to Abuja with an oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, to see President Muhammadu Buhari, without authorisation by the government.
None of such cases has been recorded in Ebonyi State.